One of Arizona Cardinals' coach Bruce Arians' sticking points from last week's loss to the New England Patriots was his team's puzzling, slow start.
Arians felt the Cardinals were lackluster throughout the first half, which likely cost Arizona a shot at opening the season with a victory over one of the league's heavyweights.
Though Arizona didn't score in the first quarter on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Cardinals were a much-improved, much more determined squad and rolled to a 24-0 halftime advantage thanks to four second quarter scoring drives. Arians said his team's performance on Sunday was a reflection of the way it practiced during the week, and though he wasn't completely satisfied with the Cardinals' efforts, he is encouraged by the way Arizona bounced back.
"I thought our guys had a heck of a week of practice, and it showed up on the field," Arians said. "Defensively, about the only negative thing I can say is that coming out of the half, we didn't set the tempo for the half and I was disappointed in that. But our offense came right back and got some points and didn't finish that drive, though. There's a lot of little things to pick at, but really happy to be 1-1."
Arizona dominated Tampa Bay Sunday in a 40-7 route, and the lopsided margin was a result of the Cardinals finishing plus-four in turnover margin. Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson got the day started with a one-handed snag of a Jameis Winston deep shot in the end zone, and Arizona never looked back from that point forward.
"We had fun today, I started the party and I told the guys I was going to start the party and everybody followed suit," Peterson said.
One of the pleasant surprises of the day for Arizona was the play of backup cornerback and recent acquisition Marcus Cooper, who the team picked up in a trade with Kansas City immediately following the conclusion of the Cardinals' fourth preseason game.
Cornerback Brandon Williams started last week's season-opener opposite Peterson and also began Sunday's game on the perimeter, but Arians said the plan was to rotate Williams and Cooper on a series-by-series basis. However, after an early interception from Cooper, the Cardinals had no choice but to keep him in the game.
"I love the way Coop (Cooper) stepped in there and played," Arians said. "I thought he had a heck of a ballgame and we were splitting reps with he and Brandon (Williams), he got hot, and you don't take hot hands out."
Cooper didn't play much last week against New England, and Arizona's passing defense suffered as the Patriots converted 10 of 16 third down tries, many of which came through the air. Williams was one of the defensive backs who struggled the most, and Arians said the Cardinals were excited to incorporate Cooper into the game plan this week because they knew he could be an asset for the team.
"We liked him (Cooper) on film and when he played against us," Arians said. "It was just a matter of learning the terminology and things, but we knew he could help us right away."
In the second half, with the Cardinals firmly in command of the game, the Buccaneers attempted to move the ball with quick screens and replacement run plays designed to attack Arizona on the edge of the field. Tampa Bay was enjoying mild success, until Winston had a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage.
After the tip, Cooper high-pointed the ball in the air and raced 60 yards for an interception return for a touchdown that helped cap off what was already a memorable day for the former Chiefs' defensive back.
"He had a hell of a game, and we almost had a competition there, but I dropped my pick-six and he caught his and went to the crib," Peterson said. "This just goes to show the talent we have on this team."
It's unlikely a player who was headed for the waiver wire following the preseason would turn into one of the Cardinals' most dependable defensive players, but at least for now, Cooper looks like an upgrade over the rookie Williams at cornerback.
Arizona has tinkered with its depth in the defensive backfield to try and find the right combination of players over the last month, and on Sunday, Cooper proved he belongs in the conversation for a starting role.
"Yeah, right now, we'll see how it goes, but he (Cooper) could potentially be the starter over there," Arians said.